For organizational leaders

Message for organizational leaders

You believe in a private sector solution for solving poverty.

So do we.

Social enterprise is said to be the “silver bullet” of sustainable development for the 21st century, but how do you make it succeed? And how do you make it sustainable?

These are great questions. As you’ve no doubt discovered by now, this “silver bullet” is not without its problems.  Here’s our Top Ten list of the problems you may have to solve in order to fulfill your mission and create a self-sustaining business in the developing world.


“We can’t find good people.”

We often hear this lament: We just can’t find decent sales people or sales managers. Most social enterprises, as well as many businesses in developed nations across the globe, lack the money to attract top talent.  Something other than money must draw people to you. And, most importantly, you must have the internal capability to train them to succeed at their job.

Lack of a detailed, structured sales process.

Most social enterprise organizations simply don’t understand how to sell and how to create a sales organization.  So, they leave people to “figure it out” on their own.  This nearly always results in shoddy, deceitful, and misleading sales practices.

Inadequate training in sales and sales management.

Lots of money is wasted in poor sales training and ineffective field sales management.  Organizations fail to develop a selling process that’s effective for them and their customers, and they fail to develop a sales management process that can develop and train people to succeed.  What they offer local people is not compelling, and they wind up with many uncommitted and untrained people.  It’s a recipe for sales mediocrity and mission failure.

Irrelevant messaging to the end user.

The mission of the sponsoring organization becomes the focus of the sales presentation, but it completely misses the audience. An example of this is an organization whose mission is to reduce carbon emissions. This isn’t a subject that a villager in Uganda cares about, at least not for his or her immediate needs.

Product-led selling.

We have never yet found a developing world business that was not engaged in product-led selling.  This is an approach to selling in which salespeople greet any show of interest with a lecture about product features and benefits.  Nearly everybody appears to think this is what selling is! It is probably the greatest mistake made in selling anywhere, but, in the developing world, it truly reaches epic proportions.

Each manager’s team size is too large!

Salespeople require individual attention and support. You cannot manage people in groups or treat everyone the same and expect high performance. The larger a manager’s team, the greater the odds of mediocrity and failure.  And sales failure in the developing world equates to people in need not receiving the help they deserve.

Inadequate and even offensive compensation.

If a social enterprise is run by people who have not made a living by selling, the organization invariably tends to undervalue the very hard work that it takes to sell, day after day, and to keep knocking on doors.  They pay too little and are disappointed when people fail to give the commitment needed to succeed.  People quit, leaders are disappointed, and nothing changes. A low-paying commission structure will win you workers who can’t find any other job, or who have multiple jobs, but it won’t attract and retain the people who can really help you succeed.

Lack of visible and attractive career paths.

Without vision, the people perish.   Your salespeople – both prospective and current – need a visible path into your organization that is attractive and that promises enough compensation that they will commit to your mission and its requirements.  People hang onto several jobs to ensure that they will have income.  If you can show them that there’s a ladder to climb, and rewards to attain, you will secure the commitment of time and energy that it takes to build a successful sales force.

Excess sensitivity to local culture.

Ex-pats understandably fear imposing Western culture over local practices. Certainly, it’s important to respect the country you’re in and be sensitive to cultural practices. But we find many organizations compromising sensible strategies and effective practices in the name of cultural sensitivity. Perhaps you’ve found that aspects of the local culture are hindering your business success. How can you solve this without “Westernizing” your employees or customers?

Believing that poor people don’t have money to buy your products.

We saved this one for last, because it’s the big one. The myth that poor people don’t have enough money to buy products causes well-intentioned groups to make really bad decisions on sales strategy. They spend inordinate amounts of time and effort creating consumer financing, subsidizing sales, and offering discounts or buy-now-pay-later options. Such schemes often create more problems than they solve.


These are the top problems we encounter in working with social enterprises in the developing world.

If you’d like to explore the specific challenges you are facing, contact us and we will  do all we can to help you fulfill the important mission you’ve undertaken.

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